by Paul Casey

Boosting Your Emotional Intelligence

You’ve probably experienced someone in your work or personal life who has a high degree of emotional intelligence. They are self-aware, they set boundaries, remain in control of their emotions and display empathy.  On the flip side, you’ve probably known someone with the exact opposite traits. They react rather than respond in stressful situations, they have a hard time understanding how other people feel and how their actions impact the people around them. Emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success. The good news is, it can be learned and developed.

In this article:

  • What is Emotional Intelligence?
  • Why is Emotional Intelligence Important?
  • 5 Elements of Emotional Intelligence
  • Conclusion

What is Emotional Intelligence?

One official definition of emotional intelligence is: the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people.

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important?

Emotional intelligence is a soft skill for sure, but it is based on research and brain science. When our emotions are in high gear, they change the way our brain works…our cognitive abilities diminish, decision-making becomes difficult, and our interpersonal skills suffer. The ability to manage the emotions that precede our thoughts is a key to personal and professional success

At a personal level, emotional intelligence helps us:

  • Have uncomfortable conversations without hurting feelings
  • Manage our emotions when stressed or feeling overwhelmed
  • Improve relationships with the people we care about

At work, emotional intelligence can help us:

  • Resolve conflicts
  • Coach and motivate others
  • Create a culture of collaboration
  • Build psychological safety within teams

5 Elements of Emotional Intelligence

In his book titled Emotional Intelligence – Why It Can Matter More Than IQ back in 1995, Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, developed a framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence. These five elements serve as a blueprint for developing and growing your emotional intelligence. Let’s explore the five elements: Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skills.

1. Self-Awareness

Emotional intelligence begins with what is called self-and-social awareness. A self-aware person examines how their actions will affect others – before taking those actions. “If I knock this domino over by saying or doing X, what else might fall over?”. A self-aware person can recognize and understand their own character, moods and emotions and their effect on others. Because of this, they don’t let their feelings rule them or lose control of their emotions.

Being self-aware requires taking an honest look at yourself.  When you truly know what makes you tick, what your tendencies are and what motivates you, you can quickly make sense of your emotions. Most importantly, it’s this honest understanding and acceptance of what I often call “the good, the bad and the ugly” about yourself that allows you to build strategies to make real progress in mastering the behaviors required to be successful. Remember, no matter what the situation, you can always choose how you react to it. Bottom line: Everyone benefits when you grow in self-awareness!

Here are 3 things you can do to improve your self-awareness:

  • Be transparent and speak the truth.Emotionally intelligent leaders are authentic leaders who aren’t afraid to let their vulnerabilities be known. They readily acknowledge their flaws and own their mistakes. They’re able to confront reality and talk straight with others in a manner that lends clarity without game-playing or emotional blows.
  • Practice observing how you feel.With hectic, busy lifestyles it’s all too easy to lose touch with our emotions. To reconnect, pause throughout the day to take a few deep breaths and notice how you’re feeling emotionally. Pay attention to where that emotion is showing up in your body and what the sensation feels like. Ask yourself, “What’s behind that emotion?” Another way is to keep a journal. Start by writing down what happened to you at the end of every day, how it made you feel and how you dealt with it. Periodically, look back over your comments and take note of any trends.
  • Slow down.When you experience anger or other strong emotions, slow down to examine why. Observe how you act when you’re experiencing certain emotions, and how that affects your day-to-day life. Managing your emotions becomes easier once you become more conscious of how you react to them.

2. Self-Regulation

This is the ability to control emotions and impulses. People who self-regulate typically don’t allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they don’t make impulsive, careless decisions. They think before they act. Characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, comfort with change, integrity, and the ability to say no. Leaders who effectively regulate themselves rarely verbally attack others, make rushed or emotional decisions, stereotype people, or compromise their values. This element of emotional intelligence, according to Goleman, also covers a leader’s flexibility and commitment to personal accountability.

Here are 3 things you can do to improve your self-regulation:

  • Know your values.Do you have a clear idea of where you absolutely will not compromise? Do you know what values are most important to you? Spend some time examining your “code of ethics.” If you know what’s most important to you and what legacy you want to be known for, then you probably won’t have to think twice when you face a moral or ethical decision – you’ll make the right choice.
  • Hold yourself accountable.If you tend to blame others when something goes wrong, stop. Make a commitment to admit to your mistakes and to face the consequences, whatever they are. You’ll probably sleep better at night, and you’ll quickly earn the respect of those around you.
  • Practice being calm.The next time you’re in a challenging situation, be very aware of how you act. Do you relieve your stress by shouting at someone else? Practice the pause, try deep-breathing exercises or express these emotions on paper. You will feel calmer and examining your reactions helps you challenge them to ensure they are fair.

“Remember, you only fail when you quit, don’t improve, or don’t try.”

3. Motivation

People with a high degree of emotional intelligence are usually motivated. They’re willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. They’re highly productive, love a challenge, and are very effective in whatever they do. Self-motivation refers to our inner drive to achieve and improve. Leaders with motivation are committed to their goals, have extremely high standards for the quality of their work (excellence!), are ready to act on opportunities, and are overall optimistic.

Re-discover your motivators. Everyone has a core motivation when they begin a project. The difficulty is keeping this driving force in mind when adversity appears. Remember, you only fail when you quit, don’t improve, or don’t try. Use adversity to help you reflect on the why you weren’t successful: was it a skill issue or a motivation issue?  All too often people start a project but fail to complete it because they lose their motivation. Take time to understand what motivates you and use it to push yourself across the finish line.

Here are 3 things you can do to improve your motivation:

  • Be a learner.

Both knowledge and information are key for feeding your mind and keeping you curious and motivated. Take a class, learn a new skill, read outside your field, ask questions of people achieving what you want to achieve. Take the initiative to chair a task force to be resourceful and solve a team or organizational issue.

  • Be a mentor.

Most people say they want to make a difference. If others need help, don’t hold back in giving it to them. Seeing other people succeed will only help to motivate yourself.

  • Be hopeful and find something good.
    Motivated leaders are usually optimistic no matter what problems they face. Feed a positive outlook through gratitude, optimism, awe, compassion, mindfulness, and physical health. Take time to celebrate the positive—in you and in your team. A key part to emotional intelligence is celebrating and savoring the positive moments in life. People who experience positive emotions are generally more resilient and more likely to have fulfilling relationships, which will help them move past adversity.

4. Empathy

This is perhaps the second-most important element of emotional intelligence. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. As a result, empathetic people are usually excellent at managing relationships, listening, and connecting/relating to others. Leaders with empathy can put themselves in someone else’s situation, seeing things through their eyes. They also help develop the people on their team, challenge others who are acting unfairly, give constructive feedback, and listen to those who need it. To be empathetic, you’re allowing another person’s experiences to resonate with your own so you can respond in an emotionally appropriate way.

Empathy doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with another person’s point of view. Rather, it’s about striving to understand–which allows you to build deeper, more connected relationships. Listening is at the very epicenter of empathy. It involves letting them talk without interruption, preconceptions, skepticism and putting your own issues on pause to allow yourself to absorb their situation and consider how they are feeling before you react.

Here are 3 things you can do to improve your empathy:

  • Put yourself in someone else’s position.It’s easy to support your own point of view. After all, it’s yours! But take the time to look at situations from other people’s perspectives. In this hyper-connected world, it is easy to fall into an ‘opinion bubble’. This is a state of existence where your own opinions are constantly re-enforced by people with similar viewpoints (confirmation bias). Take time to read the other side of the story and have your views challenged (even if you still feel they are right). This will help you understand other people and be more receptive to new ideas. One of the quickest ways to offer a sincere exchange or sign of empathy is to listen to someone’s experiences and connect to it with a similar experience of your own.
  • Pay attention to your body language.Perhaps when you listen to someone, you cross your arms, move your feet back and forth, or bite your lip. This body language tells others how you really feel about a situation, and the message you’re giving isn’t positive! Learning to read body language can be a real asset in a leadership role, because you’ll be better able to determine how someone truly feels. This gives you the opportunity to respond appropriately.
  • Respond to feelings.Let’s say, for example, you ask your assistant to work late – again. And although he agrees, you can hear the disappointment in his voice. So, respond by addressing his feelings. Tell him you appreciate how willing he is to work extra hours, and that you’re just as frustrated about working late. If possible, figure out a way for future late nights to be less of an issue (for example, give him Monday mornings off).

“It’s amazing what can be accomplished when you don’t care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman

5. Social Skills

It’s easy to spot people with good social skills. They can effectively handle and influence other people’s emotions, are quietly confident, are reliable and make time to help others. These skills cover a wide range of abilities, from communication and conflict management to dealing with change, meeting new people and building relationships.  Those with strong social skills are typically team players. Rather than focus on their own success first, they help others develop and shine. They’re rarely satisfied with leaving things as they are, but they don’t sit back and make everyone else do the work. They set an example with their own behavior.

Here are 3 things you can do to improve your social skills:

  • Learn conflict resolution skills.Leaders must know how to resolve conflicts between their team members, customers, or vendors. Get real about your typical default reactions in conflict, and work on some tools to work through these difficult conversations.
  • Improve communication skills. It’s not what you say (the message, though it does need to be clear), it’s how you say it. To improve in this area avoid using “gunpowder” words and consider the timing and setting of conversations. When we talk about communication, we are also talking about the importance of nonverbal communication and how that can affect a person’s opinion of you. Body language, tone of voice and eye contact is key to letting others know how you feel emotionally.
  • Learn how to praise others: As a leader, you can inspire the loyalty of your team simply by giving praise when it’s earned. All humans crave acknowledgement and appreciation. In fact, most people around you are encouragement deprived. When you commend others, you satisfy that craving and build trust in the process. This all begins when you focus on the good in others. Then, by sharing specifically what you appreciate, you inspire them to be the best version of themselves. Utilize kudos emails, positive voicemails, handwritten notes of affirmation, shout-outs in meetings, or unique awards of recognition.


It’s usually only through diligent practice, self-reflection and feedback that leaders can improve their emotional intelligence. Yes, at first it may feel like heavy lifting. But in time, it can become your natural state of leading. It begins with the first step. Pick one attribute at a time and get to work on your own emotional intelligence improvement plan. Before you know it, you can be that emotionally intelligent leader that others picture in their minds.  By understanding and successfully applying emotional intelligence, you too can reach your full potential and achieve your goals—and everyone around you will benefit as well.

Paul Casey has been a professional speaker, leadership coach and author for over 25 years. He is an ACC-certified coach with the International Coaching Federation, a Master Trainer, and is a member of the National Speakers Association. Through his company, Growing Forward Services, Paul partners with his corporate and individual clients to transform their vision, their habits, and their lives. Paul is married to Lovely Laura, has two grown children named after state capitals, owns a cat named Sasha, and has lived in the Tri-Cities, WA, for over 20 years. For fun, he enjoys golfing, hiking, and bicycling—and orange slices—and he reads about 40 books per year. Contact Paul for coaching, team building or speaking engagements.


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